Northern Ireland news

Syrian businessman has ‘lost everything' after arson attack on Belfast shop

A spokesman for the PSNI said the fire was started deliberately (Liam McBurney/PA)
Claudia Savage, PA

A Syrian man who moved to Belfast said he has “lost everything” after his shop was burnt out in an arson attack.

Mr Ahmad Alkhamran moved to Belfast from Syria seven years ago, and told the PA news agency he had never experienced hate before he started his business on the Donegall Road.

“I have seven years in Belfast, I was working as a taxi driver and I have seven years not any problem. Nothing happened with me before, in seven years nothing,” he said.

The fire was first reported to police just after 9pm on Sunday.

Residents were evacuated from the flats above the shop but were unharmed.

Racist graffiti attack
Racist graffiti on the grocery store (Liam McBurney/PA)

A PSNI spokesman said the fire was started deliberately and was being treated as arson with intent to endanger life.

They said the attack was the fourth at Mr Alkhamran’s shop in just two weeks.

A spray-painted message on the shutters of the shop from an attack just before the fire reads “local houses an shops only”.

Mr Alkhamran said the fire was the worst of the four attacks.

“Yesterday was the biggest one and damaged all my business. I lost everything,” he said.

He added: “It was very sad for us, like disappointed. It’s very, very sad, shocking. I can’t believe that when I arrive. I can’t believe the smoke.”

Mr Alkhamran said a side window had been broken and a petrol bomb had been thrown into the shop to start the fire.

Arson attack
A broken window after the arson attack (Liam McBurney/PA)

The shop was due to open after he had been preparing it for four months.

“Imagine anybody working four months. It’s very hard to prepare a business, to open a business. And imagine just 10 minutes or 15 minutes everything is damaged in front of your eyes,” he said.

“It’s very hard. It’s very hard to explain, even if I explain, nobody feels it as I am.”

Mr Alkhamran said he would ask those who carried out the arson: “Are you happy now? Are you happy because you destroyed a man, destroyed his life? Are you happy?

“They gave a message on the shutter, I think they win in that message. I think the hate is winning in this area and I lose.”

He added: “We love all the people, we respect all the people. We escaped from a war from Syria. We escaped from a war and we don’t need any troubles. We just need to look for a safer place to live.

“Most of the people, the majority of the people are very kind with me.”

Arson attack
Graffiti was painted on the shutters (Liam McBurney/PA)

Mr Alkhamran said he had experienced hardship in his life before and hoped to reopen in a new area with the support of the community in Belfast.

“Eleven months I was cruising from country to country to country it’s very, very hard. And after that I can’t sit down and – no, I need to keep going,” he said.

“I know this is something very big for me. It is a very big hit. But I need to keep going. But I need support from the community, from the Government just to offer me or help me with a safe place, safe shop in a safe area to reopen again, like slowly slowly. So that’s what I hope to get.”

Anyone in the area at the time of the fire is asked to contact police on 101 citing reference number 1623 17/09/23.

Northern Ireland news